Tag Archives: USF ad campaign


Establishing Our Identity From Here

Original Advertising Approach Helps USF Gain Citywide Recognition and Preach Academic Excellence

     “Wicked Smart Without the Wicked Part.” “See Ethical Issues Clearly, Even With the Fog.” “Academics More Challenging Than Finding a Parking Spot in North Beach.” These are a few headlines from USF’s Higher Standard Advertising Campaign, a project that has spread catchy, clever slogans throughout San Francisco. Upon first glance, the headlines might elicit a brief chuckle or smile. After seeing them for a second or third time, however, it becomes clearer that behind the sarcasm and humor are portrayals of rich traditions, moral awareness, and quirky situations familiar to many residents of the City by the Bay.And not everyone is a fan.

Since the campaign started nearly two years ago, some of the advertisements have been considered offensive. The headlines “Become Wildly Successful Without Becoming A Jerk No One Likes” and “Academic Standards Higher Than Haight-Ashbury in the 60’s” have been criticized by members both inside and out of the USF community, for insinuating and referencing ideals not traditionally associated with academia.

It seems, however, that that is the point.

The advertisements, as part of an ongoing campaign effort to increase USF’s exposure in San Francisco, had to stand out. In order to stand out, the creative team aimed to make headlines that would cause a stir.

“We had to have personality, and that campaign has a personality,” said Gregory Pabst, the program director of advertising at USF. “It’s a little edgy, and a lot of it is really funny, but it’s also truthful, and that’s what makes it work.”

Headlines such as “There is No Moral Compass App” and “Run a Multinational Corporation and Still go to Heaven” represent a distinct departure from other college advertisements, but David Macmillan, USF’s vice president for communications and marketing, sees this as essential to the makings of a successful campaign.

“Institutions like us tend to be conservative in marketing, and not want to take chances, not want to take risks, not want to offend anybody,” Macmillan said. “You’re not going to get anybody’s attention that way. [The advertising agency’s] proposal was to make the headlines the ads. So no pictures of smiling students in their caps and gowns, and all that you typically see from universities.”

The first flight of the Higher Standard Campaign started in April 2012 in order to establish USF’s identity and distinguish the school from other local universities, like UCSF and SFSU.

“There was widespread concern at the university, that even in our own city, people didn’t know we were here, and didn’t know what a strong university we have here,” Macmillan said.

To address this issue, a committee chaired by Macmillan proposed to USF president, the Reverend Stephen A. Privett, plans to develop a new logo and tagline for the university.

In August 2011, “Change the World From Here” replaced “Educating Hearts and Minds to Change the World,” and the Office of Communications and Marketing was established. Soon after, the committee partnered with Presidio-based advertising company Hub Strategy to create the controversial headlines.

Another key aspect of the campaign is to bring focus to USF’s academic excellence and strong morals, inspiring such headlines as ‘Academic Standards Higher Than Haight-Ashbury in the 60’s,’ according to Macmillan.

Despite controversy over the headlines even amongst students, the Higher Standard Campaign has included USF students in the creation and discussion of the advertisements throughout the campaign. In spring 2012, a competition was held among advertising majors to see who could think of the best advertisement for the school. Senior Aaron Hong, who was a sophomore at the time, received second place in the challenge with a headline that read: “All the Ideals of Change and Passion Minus the Tie-Dye and Go-Go Boots.”

Students have had sufficient time to develop opinions about the advertisements since they hit the streets in 2012.

“I know it’s a pretty big [campaign], because ever since I started [going to USF], they’re the only ads I’ve been seeing around the city,” Hong said. “So obviously I think it’s a pretty good push.”

After noticing the advertisements on buses and around campus, junior nursing major Lized Purificacion reacted to their bold, in-your-face nature. “It’s like we’re on top,” Purificacion said. “Like ‘Hey, it’s us. It’s USF. Whoa.’ Kind of like…not the word arrogant, but close to that.”

For now, the city streets are decorated with newer headlines such as “Expanding Minds (Legally) Since 1855” and “Integrity. Responsibility. Money. (Pick Three)” that are slowly replacing the headlines from the older flights. As the campaign has grown, the ads have continued to draw from the culture of the Haight, stereotypes about the perks of a college education, and aspects of the Jesuit tradition in order to create catchy, yet thematically relevant slogans.

Currently, Macmillan and his team are conducting a survey to assess people’s reactions to the advertisements by showing pictures of the headlines and asking for opinions. As far as the future of the advertisements, the results of the survey will play a role in dictating the creative crew’s decisions going forward, and according to Macmillan, a proposal is in the works that will ask the university to fund the campaign’s third year.

USF is Gaining Recognition, but Losing Values

By this point I imagine everyone has noticed our new ad-campaign. The catchy green and white slogans scattered around the city are difficult to miss. This highly visible “Higher Standard Advertising Campaign” attempts to spread USF’s “commitment to academic excellence, a culture of service, and a passion for social justice, as well as its deep ties to the city of San Francisco.” As students we are supposed to be proud of the new advertisements that are scattered around the city; instead I find myself disappointed, for one of the few times in the last four years, in how our University is representing itself.

The three “differentiating” factors of USF are supposedly academic rigor, commitment to social justice and “the longstanding links to San Francisco’s innovative spirit.” However when our ads claim, “Academic standards higher than Haight Ashbury in the 60s”, this link to San Francisco’s innovative spirit is broken.
Haight-Ashbury was a Mecca for the counter-culture of the 1960’s. It had significant faults, but it was an original, provocative, and re-configured society. Priding itself on being inclusive and embracing different ways of thinking, the movement attempted to envision new ways of organizing political, economic and social structures—ways that were more equitable. The Haight-Ashbury model played a large role in shaping community services and activist communities here in San Francisco today (communities the University regards itself as being connected to).

I was further disheartened to see “Learn to run a multinational corporation and still go to heaven” made the cut as an appropriate slogan. Multinational corporations are notorious for seeking the lowest tax burden, the cheapest labor, and the loosest environmental standards. These corporations in instances have revenues that exceed some countries’ GDP’s. Criticism of these multinational corporations is ubiquitous; it has been discussed in almost every class I have at USF from sociology, performing arts, politics, to math and rhetoric. Nevertheless, our new campaign promotes the idea that USF students support multinational corporations. Instead of being critical of them, we want to run them and still be guaranteed our spot in heaven.

Isn’t our education supposed to be about expanding outside the classroom? About questioning the integrity and social responsibility of corporations? This campaign may make our University’s name more recognizable, but at a cost. It is disappointing to see that our advertising and marketing department has co-opted our ideology as a University to promote aspects of this school that do not align with our values and mission.